The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


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sad boy / detective

Publication Date: September 2015


Winner of the Spring 2014 Black River Chapbook Competition

From his first appearance on the page, “we knew he was bound for something unsolvable.” But a little thing like futility can’t stop our hero from holding up a magnifying glass to a world “so bright it’s impossible to understand.” In this searching, provocative collection of coming-of-age sonnets, the sad boy detective listens close, collects the evidence, and reimagines the strange landscapes of a life, a body, a boy, a self. Through a questioning, fervent lens, Sam Sax’s sad boy / detective reminds us how deeply bizarre and at times undecipherable all this existence stuff truly is.


he knows when the lights in his room black

out his body can become whatever he imagines.

some nights a dragon. some nights a field of wet

thumbs. on the best nights he is still a boy

with clothing that burns from his skin until

it’s just him floating a full foot off the bed naked

and trying to open himself so light will pour

out into the blackness. the first time he came

the room exploded into a clean bright bandage,

every question raging through his blood dulled.

his own private anesthetic. the knowledge that

no matter what matter spills out of him it will

always be light. the perfect hypothesis.

the bed that swallows him when he is done.


Sam Sax’s sad boy/detective uses the unholy sonnet in ways that would make Jarman marvel and sigh. The entirety of this volume destabilizes our ideas of what it means to write the coming of age novel, what it means to be undetectable. And Sax is forever fighting the fight of a poet who is made aware of his separation from the world by the fact that he is-in sorrow, sex, danger, or celebration-moored to all he sees because his seeing is a searchlight.

-Jericho Brown

The sad boy / detective of this book is on the case of his biggest mystery yet: the strangeness of existence itself. Reading these cleverly serialized sonnets is like pressing your ear to a door full of wonders you’re unsure you’re prepared to inherit. The book enacts a powerful awakening. Sam Sax is a terrific emerging poet. Like a sleuth with a magnifying glass, you’re going to want to follow him everywhere.

-Dobby Gibson

About the Author

© Chris Unguez

Sam Sax

sam sax is a 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellow and Poetry Fellow at The Michener Center for Writers where he serves as the Editor-in-chief of Bat City Review. He's the two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion & author of the chapbooks A Guide to Undressing Your Monsters (Button 2014), sad boy / detective (Black Lawrence 2015), All The Rage (Sibling Rivalry 2016), & is co-editor of the anthology The Dead Animal Handbook (University of Hell 2016). His poems are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, Boston Review, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Poetry Magazine, Pleiades, TriQuarterly + other journals.

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